Author Archives: amoyaan
Things I Wish I’d Known About Writing From the Start, Part 1: In Order to Write Well, You Have to Write a Lot
Originally posted on The Dreamlight Fugitive:
Hi everyone! This is the first in a series of short blogs in which I’m going to share some of the most important lessons I’ve learned over the years as a writer.
My journey to being a published author wasn’t always an easy one. In retrospect a lot of that was down to the fact I wasn’t approaching things with the right mindset. I’m naturally quite an idealistic and romantic person and looking back I can see how this, coupled with an unrealistic perception of the writing industry, a streak of crippling perfectionism and self-doubt, sabotaged my writing career for at least a decade. If I knew then what I now know, it would all have been so much easier!
The first thing I wish I knew back then was simply this: no one is born a good writer. Sure, some people do exhibit greater natural skill at writing that others. In school I was always praised for my…
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This is the first in a series of articles that will form the basis of a book to be published later in the year. It is about Jailbreaking the mind — everything I’ve ever learned about understanding the mind, overcoming psychological suffering and being free!
The wound is the place where the Light enters you – Rumi
No one escapes suffering in life. It’s simply not possible. It’s an unavoidable byproduct of being alive, and one of the most fundamental aspects of human experience. The very act of birth is suffering, and sooner or later every human being will grow to experience pain in many forms, from the stress of modern life, relationship difficulties, bereavements and eventually sickness, infirmity and death. Alas, it’s all part and parcel of being human.
While there’s no getting around that fact, there are ways to transcend it, to deal with the difficulties we face and to rise up from the ashes–stronger, wiser and more powerful, resilient and happier than before. Throughout history, attempts have been made to understand and offer solutions to this core human predicament. This has been the province of philosophers and theists for thousands of years, and in recent times modern psychologists too.
There’s a wealth of information, knowledge and support out there. But it’s still up to each individual to find, understand and apply that knowledge, and to dig the way out of the dungeon of our own mind, bit by bit. And that’s where many of us have been going wrong. We simply haven’t been trained to do so; to understand how the mind works, how thought generates emotion and how to keep it all in check.
Two types of suffering
There are two basic types of suffering. Understanding this is an important key to freedom. The first is the natural suffering that is an inevitable part of life and the second is the unnatural, mind-made suffering that is generated by our thoughts, beliefs and interpretations of life. Based on terms by psychologist Steven Hayes, I talk about this as ‘clean pain’ and ‘dirty pain’. The first is experienced by all living beings and includes experiences such as loss, sickness, old age and death. Although often very painful, a person with a healthy psychology is able to deal with the experience and move on from it in a reasonable space of time.
Dirty pain however is unique to human beings and is an entirely mind-generated suffering. Whereas clean pain generally resolves by itself, dirty pain can be a never-ending nightmare. It has the power to consume us and cause a lifetime of aguish and suffering.
Although it may have been triggered by an external experience, dirty pain is generated and sustained entirely by thought. It is subjective and interpretative rather than objective. It stems from the mind and can only be corrected on the level of the mind. It manifests in a number of different ways, including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, anger, resentment and many other neuroses.
Modern society is failing us
The way human suffering is dealt with in modern society is wholly inadequate. While we have developed some excellent tools and therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, generally when someone goes to their doctor with depression, anxiety, or any other mental health issue, they are given drugs that may at best numb the feelings, but will do nothing to tackle the root cause.
Recent studies have actually shown that antidepressants are barely any more effective than placebos, which has obviously caused great concern in the medical community—although it certainly hasn’t stopped widespread prescription of what might as well be sugar pills (and which would certainly have fewer side-effects).
In a stroke of genius, the pharmaceutical industry managed to propagate the chemical imbalance theory. This is the notion that depression and other mental/emotional issues are a biological disease that could only be cured by taking whatever medication they have to offer. But as Dr Ronald Pies, editor of The Psychiatric Times stated, “in truth the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists”.
While many people feel notion that depression is a disease notion takes the social stigma out of what is already a deeply painful and very real condition, it played right into the hands of the profit-hungry pharmaceutical industry and is also entirely disempowering. Brain chemistry is not something that is set in stone. It’s constantly changing, moment by moment. Every thought that we think actually changes the chemistry of the brain! So the idea that we need drugs to do that is laughable. Change your patterns of thinking and you literally change your brain.
There is a way out
There is a way out of depression and other forms of mental and emotional suffering— and I speak from experience. In our culture we like things to be easy and swift, and we’re trained to expect instant gratification, so simply popping a pill every morning obviously has great appeal. But it’s certainly not an answer to the problem; at the very best it might help us ignore the underlying issue.
The way out of psychological suffering is actually pretty simple. It’s based on knowledge—knowledge of what drives the mind and our entire experience of life. But it does require work and consistent effort. It requires getting down into the trenches and having the courage to question all kinds of deeply-held thoughts, beliefs and assumptions about ourselves and about life. When any mechanical apparatus ceases to function the way it should, what do we do? We don’t try to mask the problem or patch it up in the vain hope it will get better. We have to actually take it apart and develop an understanding of how it works and how to fix it.
The tendency of the mind is to project the root of our problems onto external factors, but the truth is the large part of human suffering is generated by the mind. We’re in a prison of our own mind’s making. The mind spins a subjective reality that sucks us in, causing an incredible amount of needless pain and suffering, not just for ourselves but also others.
Stay tuned over the next few months for what will essentially be a crash course in understanding how the mind works, how it creates our suffering, and how to break free of it.
The Buddhists have a cool saying:
The mind is a wonderful servant but a terrible master.
It’s a sobering thought, but the vast majority of people are trapped in the prison of their own mind. Life is perceived only through the filters of mind, creating a kind of alternate subjective reality that is superimposed over objective reality. We don’t perceive things as they are, we perceive them as we think they are, based upon layers upon layers of conditioning and mind-gunk. Freedom is seeing things as they are, as opposed to how we THINK they are.
We live life with a continuous mental commentary running in their heads. Every single experience is processed through a filter of our thoughts, beliefs and prejudices. It is then neatly distilled into a story in our minds. A story. That’s it. We relate to life through a veritable library of mental stories. We so rarely experience reality as it is. Instead we’re stuck in our interpretations, our stories of what we THINK reality is. We no longer inhabit objective reality, we’re stuck in our little subjective, alternate reality bubble.
This is the cause of so much suffering, in our lives and in the world. This is the reason that all wars are fought and all conflict arises. My thoughts (which I am totally identified with and which I think comprise ‘me’) are contrary to your thoughts (which comprise ‘you’). Deep down we know that our thoughts and identity are ultimately hollow and that’s why we then have an unconscious compulsion solidify our sense of self and sadly most people do that by attacking and making enemies of those we deem to be ‘opposite’ or ‘other’. But none of it is real. Byron Katie poses an interesting question: “who would you be without your story?” The answer can be summed up in one word. Free.
Reblogged from my Dreamlight Fugitive Blog…
I’m excited to be relaunching my Dreamlight Fugitive blog in addition to my main blog, Beyond the Dream! My first new post is about something that affects everyone in any creative field: the arch-enemy of creative expression…self doubt!
Yesterday, having finally finished my new novel after a year and a half of work (and the rest! But that’s another story!), I was clobbered over the head by an attack of self doubt. I’d just ordered proofing copies yet I found myself going back and picking away at random sentences, trying to find better ways of stringing the words together in order to reach that most elusive of writerly goals: the ‘perfect sentence’!
One thing led to another and I soon started to question the entire book. What if it wasn’t ready to be put out into the world? Feelings of accomplishment and satisfaction quickly turned to feelings of anxiety and dread. What if I was in fact one of the worst writers ever to pick up a pen or hammer away at a keyboard? I’m safe at the moment, but the moment the book is published it’s a target and as the one-stars reviews come flooding in, I’ll be revealed as the terrible hack I am! I even very briefly considered binning the entire book and starting again from scratch.
That’s how self-doubt works! It’s a vicious, pernicious and potentially crippling little monster. It hides away in the darkest recesses of the mind and is prone to jumping out at inopportune moments and letting rip with its penchant for woeful catastrophising. It’s something that every artist and writer must learn to live with and it does get easier with time.
Most of the time I have it under control. But coming to the end of a project, when you are actually taking the steps to releasing that work into the world, makes the self-doubt monster terribly antsy. Stirring from its slumber like a cat that was only really half-asleep the whole time, you know the meltdown is inevitable.
“You’re thinking of publishing THAT? Are you crazy?! It needs at least another year of work. The critics are gonna tear it to shreds!”
Now, a little self-doubt is healthy. It gives us a certain objectivity about our work, which is useful in the editing stage (and throughout, really). It becomes harmful however when it degenerates into an overwrought, mud-slinging, anxiety-ridden neurotic monster, determined to convince us that nothing we do is good enough and that we’d be better off setting it aside and slumping onto the sofa and firing up Netflix. So pervasive and persuasive is the self-doubt monster, it’s almost certainly destroyed countless artists’ careers before they’ve even had the chance to get in the game. Left unchecked, this inner censor will not only hinder your creativity, it will completely destroy it and leave you a blubbering and, above all, blocked wreck!
The self-doubt monster is actually pretty easy to deal with it however. And here’s how.
First of all, take the ‘self’ out of self-doubt. It has nothing to do with who you are. It’s simply a thought and that thought’s corresponding emotion. It’s actually completely impersonal. We all get it — everyone, in every walk of life! It’s certainly not unique to us. Self-doubt is basically fear. It’s a defence mechanism designed to somehow keep us safe, even if it is a little misinformed and ultimately wholly counterproductive. Depersonalising it immediately takes the sting out of it.
Secondly, once I’ve depersonalised it, I personify it. This might make me sound utterly crazy, but I find it helpful to give it a name and form. I call my self-doubt monster Fred. Fearful Fred. He looks like a big, fat and slightly ungainly grey caterpillar. Most the time he just wiggles about in the recesses of my mind, doing whatever it is caterpillars do. Occasionally however, something gets Fred riled and he gets all worked out and inflates in size, becoming a gargantuan blob full of his own hot air. This happened last night when I somehow convinced myself I was the worst writer in human history.
I isolated the emotion in my body (it seemed to be around my belly, or solar plexus) and I decided to have a chat with Fred (as the personification of my self-doubt). He was beside himself with fear, anxiety and dread. So I made him a cup of tea, sat him down and explained that I’m grateful he’s so diligent in looking out for me, but there was no need for such stress and worry. Yeah, it’s always a little scary releasing a new piece of work into the world, as it probably is for a baby bird being pushed out of its nest in the hopes it will fly for the first time. But I reminded myself the importance of keeping everything in perspective.
I wrote an article last year about the power of karma yoga. Karma yoga isn’t a sequence of physical postures as you might expect, but a mindset with which we approach life. As it says in the Bhagavad Gita, we have the right to act, but the fruit of those actions is not up to us. So the karma yoga attitude — which is the greatest antidote to stress that I know — is simply to do our best and let go of the results. Once an arrow has been fired it’s no longer up to us whether it hits the intended target. Chances are we’ve done our best to ensure that it does, but it’s now under the control of a set of natural laws and dynamics that are completely outwith our sphere of influence. All we can do is relax, take it easy and endeavour to take whatever comes with good grace.
The self-doubt monster can be an implacable and relentless foe to any creative person. It’s probably cost me years of my life. I’m certain I’d have more than one novel published by now if I hadn’t spent years under the sway of Fred, bless his heart. Now I’ve learned to master my mind and emotions a little bit more. This doesn’t mean that self-doubt and other self-limiting thoughts vanish forever. But it does mean that when they come up I can put them in their place and simply get on with things. As the Tao Te Ching says:
Mastering others is strength; mastering ourselves is true power.
Self-doubt and anxiety are defence mechanisms generated by the unconscious mind to keep us safe. But we are safe! As artists we follow our calling, we write the stories and paint the pictures that our muse is kind enough to share with us. We learn and grow and improve our skills all the time. We make mistakes, but mistakes are an essential part of the learning curve. Never be afraid to make mistakes! And never allow yourself to be held prisoner to the tyranny of other people’s opinions. Some people will love what you do, and some people won’t. Some people are fair in their criticism and some people are jerks with clear psychological deficiencies (I now refrain from reading comments sections on youtube and other websites because of this!).
Learn to wrestle with your self-doubt monster. Or make it a cup of tea as I do. Usually once I’ve had a firm but loving chat with Fred, I imagine sending him off on an all-expenses paid vacation to Tenerife where he can just relax in the sun all day drinking Pina Colada while I get on with what I have to do.
Self-doubt is ignorance masquerading as truth. Don’t let it cripple you. Take charge of it and educate it. You’re doing fine, let it know that and these lagging parts of the mind will eventually catch up. When we no longer give fear or doubt power over us, when we educate them and put them into perspective, we give ourselves the greatest gift of all. Freedom! And freedom is the ultimate goal of all creative — and moreover, all human — endeavour! So dance with your doubts and allow yourself to be free.
This fantastic song and video by one of my favourite artists, Bat For Lashes, is about just that. This was the song that Natasha Khan wrote after a long spell of creative block, and it’s very much about learning to tame and dance with the monsters of self-doubt, despair and fear. Enjoy.
Hi everyone. It’s been a long while since I’ve written a proper blog entry. I feel it’s probably necessary to start off with a little bit of blog resuscitation! Stand back…
Ah, that’s better! I’m happy to announce that…
There are a number of reasons for my absence, but the main one is that I’ve been so busy finishing off my new novel. It’s taken an inordinate amount of time and energy over the past year and a half, but I’m delighted to announce that it’s finally done and the book will soon be on its way to be proofread. I’m looking at a Summer launch, and very excited about finally being able to share this work with – you! Entitled THE KEY OF ALANAR, it’s a story that’s close to my heart and has been with me most of my life (I initially began working on the ideas when I was only sweet sixteen). It’s wonderful to know that I’ll soon be able to share this journey with the rest of the world — and it is quite a journey!
With a new novel release planned, I’ve decided to live dangerously and commit myself to not one, but two blogs. First of all, I will be relaunching this blog and have a number of ideas for posts, a number of which will tie into a self help book I intend to release later in the year. I’ll be sharing more about this project in the months to come. I also intend to write a great deal about vedanta, and take some time to unfold this ancient science of enlightenment and self knowledge. It’s been one of the greatest blessings in my life and it’s going to be amazing to share it with you.
My other blog, The Dreamlight Fugitive, will be dedicated to writing, fiction, art and the creative process in general.
I hope you will hop on by and follow it, because I intend to update it weekly and have a great many cool things I’m going to share, including sneak previews and behind the scenes of my new novel and also a lot of insight into the process of writing and publishing a book. I intend to relaunch it in the next few days, so do check it out at – https://dreamlightfugitive.wordpress.com.
Well, this hasn’t been the most exciting of posts, but it’s been a necessary one – we have a pulse again, and I’m looking forward to blogging regularly again. I’ve missed you guys.
A great many people operate under the unconscious assumption that life owes them something. Which is not only untrue, but actually creates a great deal of misery and resentment because the reality of the situation simply doesn’t match up to that.
Life doesn’t owe us a thing. It’s already given us everything we have and everything we are. It’s given us a body, mind, intellect, and provided for our every need; air, food, water, shelter and everything else we need to survive. All we really have to do is put food in one end and allow our body to do all the work digesting, functioning, healing, growing and developing, forever maintaining its own homeostatic balance. And yet we still think that life owes us something?
The attitude that life should somehow be better and that it should match up to whatever ideas we have in our minds, is a total fallacy. Our wants and likes and dislikes mean very little objectively. Life doesn’t care what we want — we’re not special, we’re just part of the totality and the totality takes care of the totality, making little concessions for little human egos. Sometimes we get what we want, if the circumstances are conducive, but oftentimes we don’t because what we want simply isn’t that important. Assuming there are no obstructions, life simply gives us what we need. I’ve found that this realisation shifts our attitude from one of entitlement, frustration and often bitterness to one of complete humility and gratitude. We actually need very little in life. So long as we have food, clothing and shelter, things pretty much take care of themselves.
The Ufaina tribe in the Colombian Amazon believe that when a person is born, a small amount of vital force is ‘borrowed’ to them and that when they die, this energy is released back to the totality where it gets recycled again and again. Essentially, we’re all living on borrowed life energy, in a borrowed body.
We assume the body is ours but if it was, surely we’d have had some say in its selection and more control over its functioning. The body is actually just this object that appears in our awareness, functioning more or less autonomously as long as we put the appropriate stuff in and let the appropriate stuff out. If our body ‘belongs’ to anyone it surely belongs to our parents because it came from them….what a thought! But their bodies don’t belong to them either.
It’s all just borrowed, for a finite amount oftime! Eventually we have to give it all back, because it’s a debt that we owe life for simply existing in this world.
When you realise that life owes you nothing and in fact you owe life everything, how does that change the way you look at life, the way you live and the attitude with which you greet every day? For some reason it’s surprisingly liberating when you cease holding up life to ransom and recognise that the very fact you exist is not a ‘right’, but an amazing gift and one that could actually be taken back at any time!
– 54 –
That which is well planted in the Tao cannot be uprooted.
That which embraces the Tao
will not slip away.
Those who honour the Tao
will be honoured from generation to generation.
If the Tao is cultivated in your life
you will become genuine.
If the Tao is cultivated in your family
your family will flourish.
If the Tao is cultivated in your country
your country will be an example
to all countries in the world.
If the Tao is cultivated in the world,
then virtue will be with everyone.
How do I know this is true?
By looking within myself.
To simply read and try to understand the words of the Tao Te Ching is insufficient. Each verse is an invitation to embody and actually live the wisdom of the Tao. This verse again emphasises the virtue of coming into alignment with the Tao; which is not so much something to be striven for, but simply allowed to happen. When we clear the obstructions to our true nature, we can be firmly planted in the Tao and nothing in the world of the ten thousand things will be able to uproot us.
The effects of being at one with our nature, with the Tao, spread outward like ripples across the surface of a pond, for in truth nothing exists in isolation. This allows us to cultivate the way of the Tao in all our actions and interactions: in our family life, our work life, among our friends and gradually the effects will spread outward to encompass our whole country and world. Even if the effects are subtle or seemingly invisible, they are there nonetheless.
By changing ourselves and coming into alignment with the truth of our being, which is simplicity, ease, harmony and freedom from covetousness and greed, we make it easier for others to do so. The Tao isn’t about an abstract set of concepts and beliefs — it’s about living a life of integrity, peace and harmony with the whole. This is the greatest gift we can give to the world.
If you have enjoyed this series on the Tao Te Ching, it is now available in a collected volume in both paperback and ebook format on Amazon! Be sure to check it out.
Hi everyone! I’m pleased to announce that the paperback version of my Tao Te Ching book is now available on Amazon and is currently on sale at cost price. The Tao Te Ching is a remarkable gift, and I wanted to be able to share it as such.
Five years ago I set myself the challenge of creating my own version of this ancient text. I wanted to encapsulate the best of my favourite translations, retaining the text’s integrity and poetic flourish while making some of the more cryptic statements (of which there are a great many!) a little clearer and easier to understand.
I spent time reflecting on each verse and pondering the meaning of Lao Tzu’s words and then wrote a commentary on each one. I did this for myself more than anything, but decided to share it on this and my prior blogs. A lot of people have really enjoyed my take on the Tao, which has subtly evolved over the years as my own understanding has grown. Here is my introduction to the text.
I’ve been posting the content of this book in this blog for almost two years now, and will continue to do so until I have posted all 81 verses. If you’ve enjoyed it and want to have the complete work to hand, then this is for you! It’s been available to download on Kindle and Smashwords in ebook format for some time now, and the paperback edition looks beautiful I have to say. It’s a book that’s great for keeping at your bedside and dipping into for a little inspiration and insight.
It should also be available in most other territories. The Smashwords ebook edition (which includes Kindle, ePub and many other formats) can be found here)
Hope you enjoy!
I’ve also just finished my second novel, which follows on from ELADRIA. It will be published in the Spring, along with a whole range of surprises. It’s a work I’m very proud of and a story that has been with me most my life. I can’t wait to share it with you. Hopefully now this major project is out the way, I will be able to get back into a more regular blogging routine!